What’s the View from the Other Side of the Counter?


secret shopper
(Photo: © iStockphoto/elenaleonova)

Carolyn B. Nankervis |

Mystery shopping offers dry cleaners the chance to secretly evaluate customer service

APPLETON, Wis. — When my husband and I bought our house, the kitchen had the ugliest overhead light I have ever seen. I vowed, “This is the first thing that we are going to throw away.” Fast-forward four years. We are selling the house. Guess what? The ugly overhead light is still in the kitchen.

Owners are great at ignoring the obvious. Mystery shopping—the practice of secretly evaluating a business through personal experience and reporting to its ownership—exposes what customers can clearly see. Here’s what mystery shopping consists of:

  • It is a survey (“Drop-off, Pick-up, and Cleaning Evaluation”) with a set of structured questions designed to mirror a customer’s experience
  • An in-store evaluation (”shop”) of that experience, with points for each question. The number of points assigned per question is based on that aspect’s importance to the overall experience
  • The results of these shops are tracked over time
  • These shops are performed by professionals who are objective in their evaluations

Mystery shopping is, at its core, actionable. A comment such as, “The store was dirty,” is subjective. What can you do about dirty? What is dirty? Your dirt might not be my dirt. A competent mystery shopper will write, “There were handprints on the windows, lint on the floor, and the counters were covered with clothing.” A-ha! Now, a cleaner can understand what to do: clean the windows, vacuum the floor, and clean off the counters.

Of course, mystery shopping isn’t just about facilities, but it is surprising how many mystery shops come back month after month with evaluator comments such as, “The hole in the ceiling still isn’t fixed.” Or, “The parking lot was absolutely terrible with potholes and loose gravel.” More than 95% of the time, the actual cleaning of items is not at issue.

A dry cleaner shouldn’t use mystery shopping as a tool if he or she isn’t prepared to make facility changes (or improvements) and train (or confront) employees. The “mystery “about mystery shopping isn’t what a customer service representative (CSR) is supposed to do. That responsibility falls directly on management to clearly convey what is expected at the counter.

Some basics for non-negotiable behaviors from CSRs are:

  1. A pleasant greeting/general conversation
  2. Use of the customer’s name
  3. Knowledge of dry cleaning/laundry
  4. Ask questions regarding possible stains/spots/repairs
  5. Identify cross-selling opportunities

If these are the top five aspects, questions related to them will be weighed the most heavily in scoring. On the other hand, if CSRs don’t have control over something, it’s counterproductive to score them. For example, if CSRs do not direct the snow removal from around the dry cleaning business, exterior maintenance should not be a part of their overall customer-service score. However, it is important to know if ice is a foot deep at a location because it gives a full picture of the customer’s experience.

Dry cleaners can use mystery shopping to evaluate, identify and change CSR behaviors at the counter. The best mystery-shopping program is conducted over the long term and tracks results over time to ensure improvement. It conveys to employees that there are consequences to actions, documents problem resolution, and provides data for reviews. Mystery shopping rewards individuals when they consistently receive excellent scores over time.

When problems do arise at the counter, mystery shopping, by design, is a training tool. Dry cleaners can draw on mystery-shopping results (objective reporting) to talk with a CSR about what to do next time. It is much easier to review a poor mystery shop with a CSR after the fact than to try to train them while confronting an irate customer.

Mystery shopping is real event training without the downside of customer complaints—written, verbal, e-mails, blogs, broadcast blasts, and web videos. From a management perspective, it can provide valuable insight into how a customer is treated.

Shopping each location at least once a month is advised. When looking for a mystery-shopping firm, keep in mind that there is a Mystery Shopper Providers Association (MSPA); its international membership is required to sign and abide by a code of ethics. Finally, it makes sense to seek out a mystery-shopping company that has experience in the dry cleaning industry.

What do you want to know about your customer service? What aren’t you seeing? Mystery shopping can put you on the customer’s side of the counter.

About the author

Carolyn B. Nankervis

MarketWise Consulting Group


Carolyn B. Nankervis is president of MarketWise Consulting Group, Appleton, Wis. Her firm specializes in small-business market research and highly detailed mystery-shopping programs. She can be reached at, 920-735-4970.


Mystery Shopping

I agree with the concept of mystery shopping your stores and we pay incentives to both the CSR and their Manager if they get 100% however, we have found some of the reports are only as good as the shopper. For example, I often hear, "I used the customer's name, I always do" etc. So we took advantage of installed live cameras and added speakers to them and monthly the manager and the CSR pick some random shops to look at and score. And you know what, they learn more from watching themselves then from reading a report card. Some states have laws about recording conversations without all parties being aware. Our state permits recording so long as one of the two persons knows its being recorded. So in this case the CSR knows all transactions are recorded so we satisfy the law. You save a bundle, the learning is far better and the Manager and CSR sit down together and score the shop. Great recommendation I got from a brilliant cleaners in Texas. The additional benefits just keep coming, such as help with a lost garment claim that was not brought in! However you do it, if you want to be better than the guy across the street, shop your stores and your competitors.


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